In the summer of 2016, mysteriously and without warning, my body seemed to go on strike. Minor aches turned into chronic swelling and pain; even the smallest movement was agonizing. I felt sure I was dying. A few times, I wished I was dying. Twice, I prayed for death. Once, I thought about helping it along. But, remembering my son, I thought better of that.
I went through a series of tests and, finally, Lyme Disease was determined to be the cause. The doctor wanted to know where and when I may have been exposed to ticks.
Three possibilities came to mind:
At age 16 I picked up a tick, likely while lying in the grass along the banks of the McKenzie River during my first sexual encounter; a date rape. Almost as traumatic as the rape itself was the office visit to have the tick removed, because my doctor was also a family friend. “That looks like a tick,” he’d remarked as he lifted the sheet to survey my swollen derrière. There was an awkward silence then, during which I chose not to reveal any additional details. “That’s intense,” the doctor said, and I saw her type the words emotional trauma into her chart notes.
The next probable tick encounter occurred during a particularly tumultuous summer holiday in 1994 with my former husband, while visiting friends in Old Lyme, Connecticut. I felt alone with myself and also alone in the relationship, and still hadn’t processed my earlier sexual trauma. “Did you have a bullseye rash?” the doctor asked. No. She said the Lyme spirochete had likely been lying dormant in my body since then, which would upgrade me to the even more dire “Chronic Lyme” diagnosis. Tears welled up as I saw her type the word disappointment into her notes.
then there was a more recent possible exposure, just a couple of years before the symptoms surfaced, during an emotionally stressful month in upstate New York helping my then-partner prepare his family home for sale. The relationship ended just a few months later when, after I was injured in a serious car accident, my self-absorbed boyfriend, rather than coming to my aid, spent the evening with another woman. After typing the word grief into her notes, she suggested the accumulated effects of trauma, disappointment, and grief had played a significant role in the dramatic manifestation of my disease process.
She sent me home with a bag filled with medicine, reams of instructions, and this sober directive: for my body to fully heal, it would be necessary for me to care for myself with the kind of gentleness and love I had previously only offered to others. I began a practice of writing nice things about myself, to myself. It felt quite foreign, but I did it anyway.
Gradually, I began to remember who I am beneath my physical imperfections and disease symptoms and the silent suffering of a broken heart began its transformation and reclamation.
From Lyme Disease, I’ve learned that serious illness can give as much as it takes, rearranging priorities and bringing one instantly and fully into the one and only moment that is certain. From there, many things are possible.